By Ross Markman
Fresh-faced and ready for action, Nick Obie stands to the side of a rectangular table gripping his weapon of choice, prepared to eliminate his prey the eight ball.
You can see he's been in this position before.
Obie takes a quick breath and lowers his body toward the smooth, blue felt surface. With one swift motion, his right arm bends at the elbow and in the blink of an eye, white hits black into the opposite rail and then into the pocket of choice.
Obie has won.
Again, you can see he's been in this position before.
Obie is one of 36 kids playing in a high school pool league Monday nights at the Eagles Club on Second Avenue. Teams of three have been competing in round robin play for the last month.
A senior at Havre High School, Obie, 18, has been playing pool for much of his young life.
"I've got a table in my basement at home," he said.
But playing in the league is a different game.
It's competition among friends, two hours for teenaged guys to let loose and hang out a chance for testosterone to run rampant.
In the adjacent room, men and women, most two or three times the kids' ages, nurse beers and nibble on peanuts and pretzels.
Jimi Hendrix's "All Along the Watchtower" booms from the CD jukebox.
"You come down here, listen to music and play some pool," Obie said. "It gets very competitive. You don't want to lose to your buddies."
On the other side of the room is Jacob Lorang, a Havre High football player who said he only recently became serious about pool.
"It's an individual sport. It's you against someone else," he said. "On any given night, you can come down here and get your butt kicked."
Lorang's team is tied for first place with Obie's. Every day after school, the 17-year-old can be found honing his skills at the club, taking lessons from more experienced players.
"I come here every day before I go to work," Lorang said. "There's not a lot to blame it on (if you lose). It's just you."
But on this day, Lorang, like Obie, wins his game.
Following his victory, Lorang is summoned by the Eagles' president, 27-year-old Brian Otterstrom, who goes by the nickname Odie.
"I asked Jake the other day why he doesn't have a girlfriend," Odie said, laughing. "He said it's because he's down here every night."
Odie, who's been playing pool since his high school years, started the league last year.
"We just noticed there were more and more kids coming down (to the Eagles Club) on a regular basis. We thought it would be nice for them to have a chance to compete," he said. "Within a couple of months, every kid I saw asked me when I was going to start this."
The level of play in the high school league runs the gamut of abilities, Odie added. Some kids are avid players; others participate simply to have something to do on a Monday night.
Andrew Edwards is a combination of both.
The 17-year-old Havre High senior is in his first year in the league, but has been playing seriously for several years. Edwards said he joined for the camaraderie and the enjoyment that comes with shooting pool.
"For me, I'm just down here to have fun. It's a way to kill time, hang out and play pool. I'm just having a good time," he said.
"I'm usually pretty busy in school," added Edwards, who also participated in the science bowl and speech and debate this year. "This pretty much gives me an excuse not to do homework."
Edwards' team didn't play well on this day.
But he takes it in stride. He's said he's happy just for the chance to compete, and prepare for future nights shooting pool in college.
Back toward the center of the room, Odie takes a drag of his cigarette and surveys the scene.
Thirty-six young men.
Some wear baseball caps, some wear glasses. Most are dressed casually in a T-shirt and jeans. A few go the more stylish route, wearing a tucked-in collared shirt and slacks.
Many have their own cues, other use cues provided by the house.
Odie looks on proudly.
"When you're talking to them during the week, they're talking about where they stand in the league," he said.
"I think a lot of (the league's success) comes from breaking apart the monotony of normal high school. It makes them feel like more of an adult," he added. "And that's something I think we all strived for when we were in high school."